By Burton Flake (On deployment in Bahrain)

When I first began to get involved in Fuku-Bonsai I had never thought that I would be doing the things that I am now. Iíve always been interested in bonsai but didnít start taking care of my own trees until almost a year ago. Since then Iíve learned a lot, especially from David, the Fuku-Bonsai website, and all of the contributing authors of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai. I was able to visit Hawaii and go to the Fuku-Bonsai nursery in June, 2013.

I learned hands on with David the techniques used to shape and train the trees to grow in different ways. It was a memorable experience; the trees there are amazing and inspiring. What I learned from the workshops in Hawaii prepared me for teaching a workshop of my own along with the folks that would help me. (Burton's Fuku-Bonsai workshop report is at

While I was deployed to Bahrain I thought about how I could get people involved here. How about a workshop? At this early stage I had no idea what kind of work would be involved in getting trees from Hawaii to another country. I first began to see if I could get our commandís Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) program to help sponsor me and everyone else who wanted trees.

I spoke to Jessica Curtis, a co-worker who was very interested in the trees and liked the idea. She helped me figure out a timeline of events and came up with the idea that MWR could cover half of the workshop. At first the officers in charge approved the idea but a day after announcing the workshop at quarters they rescinded and told me MWR would not be covering the workshop. Luckily, Jessica talked to the right people and convinced them to change their minds and allow MWR to sponsor the event.

At this point I started to get people signed up while looking into how I would actually get the trees out here. First, we needed a permit from Bahrain to allow the plants to come into the country. That was easier said than done. I needed to get a document in a foreign country that mostly spoke Arabic legally allowing me to bring the trees into the country. I was bounced from person to person on the phone as I searched for the man that I needed to talk to. I finally got on the phone with Ahmed Saeed, a plant specialist at the Municipality of Agriculture. He was very friendly and helpful and gave me an approved permit with permission to bring the trees into the country. He also asked if he could order some trees as well for himself and his friends.

Now that I had permission we needed to find out how the package would get here. There is a FedEx office operating out here in Bahrain so I figured FedEx could ship the trees here since thatís how Fuku-Bonsai does it in the states. When I spoke to the manager at the office here in Bahrain he told me that plants were sent here all the time and there would be no problem having the plants sent to Bahrain. However, FedEx in Hawaii said that they would not allow the plants to be sent.

Luckily, David knew a different shipping company that would ship the trees. The shipping hiccup took place right around when the USDA understood that the permit from Bahrain would not allow nematodes. Almost all plants have nematodes in the soil and most of them harmless, but the way the permit read NO nematodes would be allowed. This was resolved by specifying that the plants would be treated with a nematocide.

Forty-two from my command signed up for the bonsai workshop. This was going to be the first time I taught a workshop and with that many people I thought I might be overwhelmed. I asked for Davidís advice and he suggested I get a few people together and give them a workshop beforehand so they could help me out during the commandís workshop. I got together with those who had some experience with plants or were very enthusiastic about the workshop: Jessica Curtis, Kimberly Keller, Ashley Follet, Douglas Swift, and Tricie Schweitzer all agreed to help me out during the workshop.

Douglas Swift used to be a professional photographer and helped to take pictures during the workshop. When I got the group together for a mini-workshop of their own I went over essentially the same things that I would be going over for the main workshop. I also went over how the room was going to be set up and how the workshop would go along.

The workshop took place at a multi-purpose room at the hotel where some of our command lives. The room itself was perfect full of big windows and a pool outside that really set a scene of serenity. On the day of the workshop we set up a table to display all the bonsai samples that David sent to show the potential of these bonsai trees.
























When people started trickling in we began to teach the first few that showed up. I began by instructing everyone how to prepare their pot before they took their plant out; how to run the wires through the put and mound the coarse media using a spoon. I told everyone the importance of the plastic separator and how it kept the finer media from clogging the coarse media and preventing water from draining properly.

Once the pot was prepared the next step was to put in half of the medium media to level the media and firm it up using their spoon. At this point I would have them pause and take a look at their tree. I explained that each bonsai is different; each tree has its strong and weak points. I told them to look for the lowest branch, and to have that branch facing the center. I instructed each person to carefully remove their tree from the plastic pot that it came in by pressing on the sides to loosen it, and then rocking it out of the container.

After placing the tree off-center with the lowest branch facing the center, I told them to firmly place the tree onto the soil and tie it down with the wire. Once the tree is secure I instructed each person to put the rest of their media into the pot and use a spoon to pack the media down. At this point I had everyone soak their trees in water for 30 minutes. After the soak everyone took a look at their accent rock, I asked them to what they thought was interesting about it and to use it to augment the appearance of the tree. The fine media was then carefully layered on the top of the media to create a pleasing appearance.

When people walked in they went straight to the display booth we had set up and admired the older trees. Lots of them didnít realize that a bonsai tree could look that way. Not everyone came at the same time so as the groups came in one of the instructors would take them over to a table to help them out with their workshop. After about 30 minutes most everyone had shown up and was being instructed by somebody. Some people finished quicker than others, some asked more questions, but everyone said they had a great time.


By Jessica Curtis (On deployment in Bahrain)

             Iíve always thought about having a Bonsai Tree.  Iíve always thought that it would be pretty neat.  Iíve never really had a chance to have one though.  I was never in a place to get one, or didnít know where to get one, and it seemed like a lot of work and learning.  Needless to say, it wasnít on my immediate list of things to do.  Then I met Burton Flake.

            Flake is the resident Bonsai Guy.  He came to me with an idea to have HM-15 Command Bonsai trees!  He told me that he would be putting on a workshop to teach everyone how and what to do with their bonsai trees.  I was instantly in love with the idea!  Bringing hearty trees into a climate where everyone could use a little green in their life seemed like a wonderful idea.  As the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) president, my goal was to get the command involved.  If HM-15 paid for part of the trees, then the people that bought the trees would know that HM-15 was partly responsible getting them for them and would forever have something from HM-15.  There is nothing better than having the command do something for individuals that they wouldnít expect the command to normally do.

            When it came time for the bonsai class, Flake did a wonderful job.  He started by teaching 4 of us how to do it so that we could in turn help others do it as he was teaching a bigger group of people.  I learned how to replant the bonsai, how to trim it and how to water it.  I was so proud of my little tree and of me!

            Since that day I have been taking care of not only my tree, but a couple others and they are wonderful!  I love seeing them in my apartment!  It makes my day!


             SOME THOUGHTS BY DAVID:  Many years ago while Fuku-Bonsai was a sole proprietorship and before it became a corporation in 1985,  we had no problems and shipped to Canada, England and Europe.  But since then there's been many changes.  A dozen years or so ago, Canada seemed to feel insulted with how they were being treated by our government and imposed "agricultural quarantine" regulations that were thinly disguised protectionist retaliatory measures.  Then the terrorist 9-11 World Trade Center attack made local, national, and international shipping a challenge. 

             Locally we had to attend classes to become a known shipper or buyer to be able to pick up supplies arriving by the inter-island barge.  The airports seemed like an armed fortress and the visitor industry took a nose-dive and it's not yet fully recovered. But with even the difficulty of national air freight clearances was a daunting task and so I just wasn't willing to consider international shipments --- until I met Burton!

              Here's a fellow who believes everything is possible and he has the energy and desire to become a bonsai evangelist!  So I teased him that if he wants to teach bonsai in Bahrain,  he really should learn how first --- and a few months later between deployments he showed up in Kurtistown!  You gotta help these guys and so we began the grueling task of getting all permissions and clearances.  For us it was quite a challenge but a form of support for our soldiers protecting our way of life and who serve our country.  Congratulations to Burton for achieving his goal and to Jessica and the others who helped and supported Burton.  MAHALO!


*** Go back to the December 2013 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
© Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013